Islamic Studies Tomb of Muhammad
Amelia Gallagher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0097


The “Tomb of Muḥammad” refers to the grave of the Prophet Muḥammad (d. 632) as it is contained within a constructed sepulcher in addition to the surrounding area, which is at the same time an integral part of the Prophet’s mosque (al-masjῑd al-nabawῑ) in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Within the enclosed sepulcher of Muḥammad’s tomb, the first two Sunni Caliphs, Abū Bakr (d. 634) and ʿUmar (d. 644), are also interred. The section of the Prophet’s mosque dominated by this tomb marks the skyline of Medina with its distinctive green dome. During the history of renovation and expansion by its various caretakers, periodic controversy accompanied elaboration of Muḥammad’s tomb, inspired by statements in the Hadith extolling burial by a simple grave, level with the ground. Functioning as a shrine that has hosted countless visitors, the tomb of Muḥammad is known in Arabic as al-ḥujra al-nabawiyya (“the chamber of the prophet”), al-ḥujra al-sharīfa (“the noble chamber”), al-qabr al-sharīf (“the noble grave”), or al-rawḍa (“the garden”). Despite periodic controversies, Muḥammad’s tomb has become a central destination of pious visitation (as part of a visit to Medina appended to the pilgrimage to Mecca) throughout Islamic history and throughout the Muslim world since at least the 2nd Islamic century.

General Overviews

Although debated among early traditionalists, monograph Halevi 2007 explains how it came to be widely accepted by Sunni historians that the deathbed of the Prophet Muhammad served as his place of burial, and he was inhumed within the earth of the room (ḥujra) assigned to his wife ʿĀ’isha, where he died in 632. The expansion of the Prophet’s mosque adjacent to this space, which took place between 706–709 during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I (r. 705–715) and under the authority of the governor of Medina and future Umayyad Caliph, ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (d. 717), marks the most significant elaboration of his place of burial and a fundamental transformation of the space surrounding the grave. The general transformation of the space throughout Islamic history is covered in Behrens 2007, Kurdī 2002, Marmon 1995, and Munt 2014. During this first Umayyad renovation of the burial space, the quadrangle walls of the original ḥujra were replaced by an irregular hexagonal stone sepulcher (appearing as a pentagon in artists’ renderings, but technically six-sided), the ceiling of which was sealed. This innermost sanctum, for which entry was forbidden, henceforth became known as the ḥujra al-nabawiyya. During the same restoration, the Prophet’s mosque was extended to encompass this enclosed tomb-sepulcher as well as the rawḍa within its southeast corner. Use of the term rawḍa (“garden”) has additional meaning, but various Hadith cite the term in this spatial context of the mosque by quoting the Prophet: “Between my house and my pulpit is a garden of the gardens of Paradise (rawḍat al-jinna).” Schöller 2004 (cited under Visitation to Muḥammad’s Tomb and Religiosity Associated with the Tomb) outlines the numerous variants and sources of this Hadith. The rawḍa proper refers to the south portico bordered by the minbar (pulpit), ʿĀ’isha’s ḥujra, and the Prophet’s miḥrāb. Because of its adjacency to the enclosed ḥujra, as well as the paradisiacal connotations of the term rawḍa, the entire portion of the Prophet’s mosque containing the sepulcher, as well as the space that hosts its visitors, is often referred to simply as the rawḍa in modern colloquial usage (i.e., roza mubarak, or “the blessed garden”). A partial history of the sacred nomenclature for Muḥammad’s tomb is discussed in the context of both epitaphs and poetic sources in Schöller 2004.

  • Ayyad, Essam S. “The ‘House of the Prophet’ or the ‘Mosque of the Prophet’?” Journal of Islamic Studies 24 (2013): 273–334.

    DOI: 10.1093/jis/ett053

    A thorough overview on academic literature concerning the history and theory of the mosque structure in general, as well as its influence on later design. The argument outlined in the article about the sacral nature of the mosque in part hinges on the discussion of Muḥammad’s tomb within.

  • Behrens, Marcel. “Ein Garten des Paradieses”: Die Prophetenmoschee von Medina. Würzburg, Germany: Ergon Verlag, 2007.

    The most important German source on Muhammad’s tomb: a general account of the history of the Prophet’s mosque and its significance in Islam. Includes a history of renovations and evolution of piety.

  • Damluji, Salma Samar. The Architecture of the Prophet’s Holy Mosque: Al-Madïnah. London: Hazar, 1998.

    A large pious volume published in commemoration of the expansions of the Prophet’s mosque commissioned by King Fahd ibn ʿAbdul ʿAzīz. The volume contains a survey of the history of the mosque’s architecture by dynasty, including Muḥammad’s tomb and its additions. The advantage of this volume is its impressive size, with many pull-out features. A technical and aesthetic achievement, this also contains an extensive bibliography of sources in Arabic.

  • Esin, Emel. Mecca the Blessed Madinah the Radiant. New York: Crown, 1963.

    A pious volume in the longue durée style, this contains many illustrations and photographs and an extended account of the Umayyad reconstruction.

  • Halevi, Leor. Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

    The bulk of Halevi’s study concerns how Muslims of the foundational centuries constructed distinctively Islamic rites of death and burial. His study also discusses early ḥadīth literature regarding the topics of tombstones and constructed, or raised tombs. Halevi’s treatment of issues surrounding burial and tomb construction (chapter 6) provides a necessary foundation to the controversy surrounding the site of Muḥammad’s tomb.

  • Kurdī, ʿUbayd Allāh Muḥammad Amῑn. The Holy Kaʿbah and the Two Holy Mosques: Construction and History. Medina, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Bin Ladin Group, 2002.

    An oversized pious volume, this is an official Saudi commemorative account of the history and ongoing expansion program of the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina. Its academic value lies in the inclusion of many vintage photographs as well as detailed and technical diagrams of the Prophet’s mosque, including the tomb.

  • Makki, M. S. Medina, Saudi Arabia: A Geographic Analysis of the City and Region. Amersham, UK: Avebury, 1982.

    A geographic and economic history of the city of Medina. In line with its technical emphasis, the growth of the Prophet’s mosque is charted by square meters.

  • Marmon, Shaun. Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    A historical analysis of Muḥammad’s tomb from the perspective of the influential Mamlūk dynasty, during which time the tomb became “the charismatic center” of the empire (p. 28). A careful analysis of the development of the tomb through Mamlūk imperial culture.

  • Munt, Harry. The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107323773

    This history of early Islamic Medina includes overview of early controversy surrounding pious visitation to Muḥammad’s tomb as well as an extensive survey of Hadith literature on the practice and its controversy.

  • Winder, R. B. “Al-Madīna.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by H. A. R. Gibb, E van Donzel, P. J. Bearman, et al. Leiden: Brill, 1986–2009.

    A full survey of the history of Medina, including a discussion of the development of the Prophet Muḥammad’s mosque and tomb.

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